In many of 2NE1’s music videos, you would see them wielding a bat. Later on, you will realize that they use this for crushing charts and breaking records. From the moment they debuted as a group in 2009, these formidable femmes – CL, Bom, Dara and Minzy — have treated mediocrity with spite, choosing to blaze new trails in a music genre that was then dominated by four-letter words like “cute” and “sexy”. They wasted no time in creating a look, a vibe and a musical influence that was entirely their own – sharp, edgy, fierce and defiant. After sweeping scores of major awards from the Korean music industry, they flew to New York City where they were crowned MTV Iggy’s Best New Band in the World in 2011. The following year, they became the first K-Pop girl group to embark on a world tour, before promptly proceeding to do musical collaborations with the likes of will.i.am and Snoop Lion.
Things fell quiet in 2013 when they busied themselves wrapping up their second studio album and dropping a few singles that tickled but did not exactly tantalize. Then, boom – their agency, YG Entertainment, announced a second world tour scheduled to kick-off in Seoul by March 2014. And oh, that long overdue second album? It will drop a few days ahead on CL’s birthday, since she composed three of the tracks. What followed was absolute bedlam. Their fans – known collectively as Blackjacks – started dusting off their light sticks, printing new banners and pinching their allowance to purchase concert tickets, digital tracks and hard copies of the new album, “Crush”.
Meanwhile, the tour concert entitled “All or Nothing” (AON) caught people’s fancy with its sleek, sci-fi themed cinematic teasers and creative promotions that had the otherwise elusive girls appearing on variety shows, staging fan meets, hamming it up in their own YouTube videos and basically inundating their personal social media accounts with an enticing trail of photos and other sneak peeks leading to the show. To date, AON has announced 15 performances covering 12 cities in nine countries, with more stops still on the drawing board. However, the most important concert date for Filipinos falls on May 17, when 2NE1 brings AON to Manila at the Mall of Asia Arena. It has been three years since they first visited for a gig called “The Party” and this is the first time they are coming for a full concert, leaving their Pinoy fans breathless with anticipation.
To get a preview of what’s in store for us in May, this writer flew to Seoul to watch both nights of their AON launch at the Seoul SK Handball Arena. Despite the freezing post-winter weather, 2NE1 burned down the hall and everyone in it with the kind of frenzied conflagration only they can conjure. Here are some of the hottest reasons why watching AON is good for you, your friends and the entire human race:
- Dara’s goddess abs – In a word: yummy. You wouldn’t believe someone as seemingly frail as her could carve a four-pack but she did it in just two months, following a strict exercise and diet regimen which called for giving up her favorite ramyun and pumping iron every day under the eagle eyes of their company’s captain trainer. Undoubtedly, all the hard work paid off. The minute the girls step out onstage, those glorious abs are practically stamped as “Today’s Special”. So yes, I’d like a serving of Sandara Park’s scrumptious prime cuts served on a stretch of silky smooth, slightly tanned, honey gold skin… please!
- “EroMaknae” unleashed – The group’s recently legal Gong Minzy fires up the stage as she goes splittin’ and poppin’ and twerkin’ all night long. Discovered when she was only 11 and debuted as part of the awesome foursome at 15, this irrepressible dancing machine finally gets to throw off her shackles and show the world what the “ero” in her nickname “EroMaknae” really means. Everyone’s favorite baby sister does all those nasty moves you wouldn’t want your baby sister to do for 5,000 pairs of ogling eyes!
- . CL drives everyone “men-boong” – “Hot” does not even begin to describe charismatic leader Lee Chaerin (CL). Forget hot. She’s radioactive. She begins her solo stage as The Baddest Female, descending like a mythical Valkyrie ready to send that screaming army of Blackjacks off to their noble deaths. Death by MTBD (mental breakdown). What follows is absolute carnage, ending with the slinky lionette sprawled on the ground, purring “How beautiful is this life? How painful is this life?” You will beg her to take you to Valhalla, pronto!
- Bom’s fabulous Terminator legs – She is not called the “living Barbie” for nothing. Park Bom’s interminable legs are the stuff legends are made of and every stage outfit she wears is designed to make sure no one forgets. The only thing that could probably stretch farther than her glorious limbs would be her remarkable vocal range. As my friend Gjie from Malaysia likes to say: “If electric companies generated power based on sexiness, Bom’s legs would power an entire nation.” They truly deserve their own fandom.
- Fashionista fiesta –Hands down, 2NE1 is the most fashion forward girl group in the K-Pop music hemisphere. The girls are known to run around town garbed in the latest collection of iconic fashion houses like Chanel, Balmain, Saint Lauren, Givenchy, Versace, Balenciaga, Lanvin and other luxury brands, tastefully alternating or mixing them with the more progressive creations of up and coming talents from across Asia, Europe and the US. For the AON concert, the girls throw fashionistas a visual banquet as they romp onstage in funky glam fashion by Jeremy Scott (Moschino’s new design chief, CL’s bestie and a hardcore supporter of the group), SAM MC London, Ground-Zero, Cassette Playa, Ashish, Rick Owens x Adidas, Adidas Originals (where they are international brand models), among other distinctive labels. For a dash of flash, check out their Versace, Chrome Hearts and Ambush bling-blings that shine brighter than your future.
- Is this lap taken? – I hear you. “They’re doing whaaat???” Sexy is not usually a word associated with 2NE1 but what the heck – they’ll give lap dancing a try just for the fun of it. Four unsuspecting gentlemen are escorted onstage to join the girls for some schmexy time. It only lasts for a minute or two but this portion never fails to send the entire stadium rumbling with a collective “noooooohhhhhh” from the shocked and pretty much possessive crowd. Jealous much?
- Jaw-dropping male dancers – YG Entertainment’s resident male dancers, Hi-Tech, actually have their own fan clubs. I kid you not. These strapping, agile and stylish young men have become celebrities in their own right, particularly the forever shirtless Kwon twins — Dony and Deukkie — who have thousands of followers on their social media accounts. Check them out. Every other girl has.
- Travis Payne at the helm – Multi-awarded American choreographer, director and producer Travis Payne joins 2NE1 on a world tour for the second time. Known for his close association with the late great Michael Jackson, Payne has also designed unforgettable moves for such high profile artists as Madonna,Sting,Lenny Kravitz, Janet Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Britney Spears, Usher, Lady Gaga, Nicole Scherzinger and Beyoncé. As director and lead choreographer of AON, he and longtime associate Stacy Walker give the girls an upgraded image that is more daring and mature, but without losing their signature fierce and feisty appeal.
- Magnificent stage presence – If you think they sound incredible in their albums, wait ‘til you watch them onstage. One concert is all it takes for you to realize why they are the undisputed queens of live performance. How four tiny Asian girls can mesmerize an entire arena with their boundless energy, powerful choreography and impeccable live singing will astound you. As they go seamlessly through a lineup of 20 songs that range from pop, hip-hop and reggae, to R & B, rock and a little head-banging metal, you wonder how they even manage two or three encore numbers while smiling, dancing, jumping and doing fan service all over the place. The stage is their playground as they constantly prod the crowd to stand up and go crazy with them with their familiar battle cry: “Nolza!” Let it be known that every 2NE1 concert is a non-stop party, so please leave your stilettos at home.
- Chart-topping music – Saving the best for last, the hottest reason why you shouldn’t miss AON in Manila is because you get to hear those smashing tracks from their newest album “Crush”, which set the new US Billboard record for the highest charting, best selling K-Pop album only 72 hours after it was released. “Crush” opened at the 61st slot on US Billboard 200, with all ten tracks dominating the Top 40 slots of its K-Pop Top 100. Now on its third week, “Crush” is still doing well, sitting comfortably at Number 6 on the World Albums chart. Domestically, its title track, “Come Back Home”, went straight to the top spot of all Korean music charts within eight hours of digital release, as well as topping the iTunes charts in over a dozen countries, including the Philippines. Aside from their latest hits, expect remixed versions of their previous knockouts like “I Am the Best”, “Can’t Nobody”, “I Don’t Care”, “Ugly”… you know the drill.
And because May 17 marks exactly five years since 2NE1’s debut, expect loads of anniversary surprises from their adoring Blackjacks, not only from the Philippines but also from all over the world. This early, international fan sites have been busy making plans to join in the celebration and send representatives to cover the event. And for this special occasion, Dara – still the self-proclaimed pambansang krung-krung ng Pilipinas – has hinted to this writer that she might just concede to a “special number” exclusively for the Manila show if the fans request for it. In fact, she might even ask the three other girls to join in. What is this special treat? You won’t know unless you’re watching. So are you in — or out?